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“When Does Passover End?,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 31, 2023 | 9 Nisan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

When Does Passover End?


We may stop eating matzah after the seventh day and start back with consuming bread and cookies. The real work of Passover, however, continues as spiritual fuel through the year and our lives. If we isolate the experience only to the holiday we miss the impact it may have on all of us. The Seder, the eating requirements and restrictions, and the Passover narrative provide a toolbox of insight. Here are three:

Passover is dynamic. We do not end up where we started. We begin with degradation. None of us can ignore what slavery means whether in ancient Egypt, in our own country before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, or the continued sex slave trade occurring in our own time. Subjugation. Powerlessness. Hopelessness.  Therefore, we aspire and work toward dignity. We don’t give up. Hope-full-ness drives us. Every day we need to ask ourselves how we help others to move from degradation to dignity.

Symbols matter. In the middle of the Seder close to the time when the meal is served, we recite the words from the Mishnah by Rabban Gamliel:  Whoever did not explain these three things on Passover has not fulfilled one’s duty. They are Pesach, matzah, maror.  Then we explain that the blood of the sacrifice protected the Israelites from the angel of death; the matzah, as unleavened, was what they took with them when they left Egypt in a hurry; and the maror, like the salt water in which we dip the parsley, reminds us of bitterness and sadness. We recognize the significance of all three as well as the other items on the Seder plate because the symbols demand that their significance remains in our consciousness.

Empathy transforms. “In every generation, each person should see themselves as if they went forth from Egypt”, as the Haggadah details. Empathy can be learned. Through Passover, we hone our skills at radical empathy.  The author, Isabel Wilkerson wrote, “[Radical Empathy] is not what I would do if I were in their position but [to ask] what are they doing? Why are they doing what they are doing from the perspective of what they have endured.” (The Warmth of Other Suns) We make the impossible possible by such an inquiry. When we open ourselves to behavior that leans toward compassion and understanding., we move beyond ourselves to embrace the feelings and needs of others.

The Passover toolbox overflows. Keep it open all year long and who knows what you might discover as inspiration and motivation in your own life.

Shabbat Shalom!

Originally shared on April 26, 2019

Rabbi Elaine Zecher